Fireworks. Hot dogs. Bands marching down Main Street. These are the pictures that come to many people’s minds when they think of U.S. holidays. But the United States is a vest country made up of people from many different cultures, and the celebration of holidays reflects this diversity.
In Chinatown section of San Francisco, rice and snow peas are a part of many holiday meals. In New Mexico, one might encounter chili peppers, piñatas, and Mexican music on the Fourth of July. In Hawaii, one popular way to celebrate a holiday is with a feast, or luau, which has been a Hawaiian tradition for centuries.
Hawaii is the only state in the United States that was once an independent country with its own language and culture. Today, many Hawaiians continue to celebrate traditional Hawaiian holidays, such as Prince Kuhio Day, Kamehameha Day, and Aloha Week. In celebration of their Hawaiian ancestry, Islanders might dress in traditional clothes such as loose dresses call muumuus or colorful shirts. Around their necks they might wear leis, or rings of flowers.
Even when it comes to celebrating a traditional American holiday, such as Thanksgiving, Hawaiians give it their own special flavor. They might place pumpkins on doorsteps and paste cardboard pilgrims on windows, but chance are good there will also be a turkey or a pug roasting under the ground in an earth oven, or imu.
Cooking in an imu is an ancient Islands’ custom that requires much work and cooperation among family members. Preparations begin several days before Thanksgiving, when the family goes down to the beach or to the mouth of a stream to fill bags with smooth, rounded lava stones. They choose the stones carefully for their shape and size for holes that will prevent the rock from exploding when they are heated.
To prepare the imu, the men first dig a large hole in the shape of a bowl about three feet (0.91 meters) wide and two feet (0.61 meters) deep. They the line the bottom and sides of the hole with the lava rocks. They cut up firewood and pile it up, ready for the holiday morning when a fire is lit inside the hole. As the fire gets bigger and hotter, more rocks are placed in the hole. Finally, the lava rocks get so hot that they glow red and white. The fire is then brushed aside, and several of the hot rocks are placed inside the turkey or pig. The meat is then wrapped in the long broad leaves of the ti plant and tied up tightly with wire.
Before the pig or turkey is placed in the imu, the men spread chopped pieces of banana plant over the hot rocks. The white, juicy lining of this plant makes a lot of steam, but it can also cause a bitter taste, so ti leaves are layered over it. Finally, the pig or turkey is placed in the imu, along with sweet potatoes, pineapple, plantain, vegetables, and even fresh fish – all wrapped in ti leaves.
The man spread more hot rocks over the bundles of food, then more ti leaves, a layer of wet bags, and a canvas covering. They shovel dirt into the hole and pat down the dirt until it is smooth. Mot a trace can be seen of either the meal or the earth oven in which it is cooking.
Three to four hours later, the dirt is shoveled away. The men dip their hands in cold water and then quickly remove the burned leaves and rocks, allowing delicious smells to emerge from the oven. The bundles of cooked food are taken out uncovered, and placed on platters, ready for a different kind of Thanksgiving meal, cooked and served Hawaiian style.